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The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Nineteenth Century Buildings

The Kiam Building
The Kiam Building
All photos by Olivia Flores Alvarez, unless otherwise noted

We tend to tear buildings down here in Houston. Sadly, new construction seems to win over preservation most of the time. There are a few buildings that have stood since the 1800s in the downtown area. Some are standing empty, but several are occupied and home to offices, restaurants or bars. Here's our list of our favorites.

10. Kiam Building, 320 Main Street 1893, H. C. Holland

Originally home to the Ed Kiam clothing store, the five-story red brick building with a distinctive bull-nose corner bay at 320 Main Street was designed in 1893 by H. C. Holland, a relatively unknown English-born architect that worked for a short while in Houston. In 1981, the building was restored by Barry Moore Architects but the restoration kept most of the original features intact.

The Kennedy Corner Building
The Kennedy Corner Building

9. Kennedy Corner Building, 218 Travis Street 1889, Eugene T. Heiner

Two fires -- one in 1860 and another in 1988 -- have gutted the Kennedy Corner Building, but the structure's still standing (seen with the red canopy above). The 1988 fire exposed ground-floor cast iron columns which were restored by then owners artist Lee Benner, Peter Garcia and Larry Wilsford who opened the Twelve Spot Bar in 2001. In 2009, the building became the Hearsay bar. (The corner once held a four-bay range, including 214, 216, 218 and 220 Travis. The 220 Travis building on the lot south of the structure unfortunately was demolished in 1992.)

8. W. L. Foley Dry Goods Company Building, 214-216 Travis Street 1889, Eugene T. Heiner

Next door at 214 and 216 Travis is the W. L. Foley Dry Goods Company Building (on the right in the photo above) . Stretching over two bays, the structure features High Victorian constructive ornament including arched window heads of brick, and frieze bands. The building was damaged in 1976 and 1988 by fires, but in 1995 several Houston preservationists including art dealer Doug Lawing, restaurateurs Dan Tidwell and Jamie Mize rehabilitated the structure (Guy Hagstette was the architect on the project). Now a mixed commercial and residential use building, it features several elements that were typical in downtown Houston.

7. The Sweeney & Coombs Building, 310 Travis 1880, Eugene T. Heiner

In the 1990s, Scott Arnold, a lawyer, rehabilitated what was originally the Sweeney & Coombs Building, home to a jewelry store (the company later relocated across the street). Law offices are still located there.

The ornate facade features beautiful windows on the upper floors and a slightly less decorated storefront on the ground floor. A restrained color palate keeps the facade from looking overly fussy these days.

Part of a row of similar looking historic buildings, the Sweeney & Coombs Building is easily the most well rehabilitated and currently attractive.

The building now faces a Metro Rail Line stop.

 

6. The Kennedy Bakery Building, 813 Congress Avenue 1861

The area around Market Square Park has several historic buildings, most notably the Kennedy Bakery Building. Currently home to La Carafe bar (and said to be haunted), the structure is among the three oldest buildings downtown. Luckily it has avoided major restructuring and has managed to retain many of its original details, including decorative brickwork. In 1960, Harvin C. Moore rehabilitated the structure for original owner John Kennedy's great-grandson. An Irish immigrant, Kennedy was a slave-owner and businessman in Civil War-era Houston, with bakeries at several locations. Kennedy first had a trading post at the site, but lost that structure to a fire in 1847. Kennedy also had a grocery store, a gristmill, and thousands of acres in the county. His son-in-law was store owner W. L. Foley.

5. The Stuart Building, 304 Main Street 1880

One of a trio of buildings, each with a unique storefront, the Stuart Building is designed in the Victorian neo-Grec style

The architect is not known for the building, which was constructed in 1880.

The ground floor recently became the Little Dipper Bar, one of several ( Poison Girl, Antidote, and Black Hole) owned by Scott Walcott, Miriam Carrillo, Scott Repass and Dawn Callaway.

Inside the popular bar has exposed brick walls and a lush purple ceiling, not completely in sync with the building's exterior but not in disturbing contrast either.

 

The Scholibo Building( middle) Heny Brashear Building (right)
The Scholibo Building( middle) Heny Brashear Building (right)

4. The Scholibo Building, 912 Prairie Avenue 1880

3. The Henry Brashear Building, 910 Prairie Avenue 1182, Eugene T. Heiner

Our Nos. 4 and 3 go to neighbors, the Scholibo Building and the Henry Brashear Building. The pair are located just behind the former Rice Hotel. Standing next to the ornate Victorian era three-story Brashear Building, the more simple two-story Scholibo Building seems to pale a bit in the comparison, but is in fact quite attractive and deserving of recognition on its own merit. The Brashear Building is a narrow, but stately commercial building with a stucco-surfaced facade and cast iron cornice.

2. The Sweeney, Coombs & Fredericks Building, 301 Main Street 1889, George E. Dickey

What the Sweeney, Coombs & Fredericks Building lacks in width it makes up for in style. An excellent example of Victorian work by George E. Dickey, the structure is one of only two of his buildings to survive in Houston.The building was almost lost in 1974. There were plans to demolish the structure to make room for the nine-story Harris County Administration Building, an austere, severe structure which now sits on the building's south side. In a rare burst of respect for historic structures the building was saved. The Sweeney, Coombs & Fredericks Building seems all the more decorative in comparison to the boxlike Administration Building.

The corner turret and arched windows on the second and third floors are only part of the building's striking appeal. This was the second home to Sweeney and Coombs jewelry store (see number seven above).

1. The Houston Cotton Exchange, 202 Travis Street 1884, Eugene T. Heiner

At the No. 1 spot in our list, the Houston Cotton Exchange, constructed in 1884, is an exuberant example of the High Victorian style. The structure was originally only three stories tall; in 1907 the fourth floor was added. (The fourth floor lacks some of the details of the original construction.) It was the site of important business deals as traders negotiated for the best prices on the day's offering of cotton. In the years before oil was found in Texas, cotton was the city's leading industry.

Unusual for both Houston and the time, the building sits on a raised basement, in what's known as the Chicago style. The Cotton Exchange outgrew the structure and relocated to larger facilities in 1924.

In 1971 the building was rehabilitated by Graham B. Luhn as office space for preservationists Jesse Edmunson and David Hannah. It's also been home to a bar.


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